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HE various chronicles, known under the col
lective title of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, are contained in seven manuscripts, which may thus be described:
I-C. C. C. C. 173, known as the Parker MS. [A], is written in thirteen or fourteen distinct hands, with many interpolations in the earlier portion of the text by the later scribes. From 892 to 10of the entries are probably contemporary.
II—Cott. Otho, B xi [w]. This was once a fair fólio MS. of some 350 leaves; now it is reduced to a few charred fragments. For our knowledge of the text we are dependent on the edition which Wheloc printed in 1643 and 1644.
III-Cott. Tib. A vi [B]. The writing is all in one hand, which has been assigned to the end of the tenth century. Many of the annals, have no numbers affixed to them.
IV-Cott. Tib. B i [c]. Several hands, probably all of the latter half of the eleventh century, are traceable.
V-Cott. Tib. B iv (D). Several hands of much the same date as MS. C.
VI–Laud Misc. 636, known as the Laud MS. [E], transcribed at various dates from 1121 to 1154.
VII-Cott. Domitian A viii [F]. This MS. is mutilated. The bulk is all in one hand; but there are innumerable additions, interlinear and marginal, possibly by a different scribe. The writing has been assigned to the first part of the twelfth century. The interest of MS. F lies in the fact that entries are made both in Anglo-Saxon and in Latin.
There is also a single leaf of a chronicle, Cott. Domitian A ix [H], which deals with the years 1113 and 1114. The loss of the main portion is the more to be regretted because it was plainly independent of E, the only MS. still extant which takes us beyond the eleventh century.
Towards the end of the ninth century Alfred the great was reigning in the southern and eastern districts of England; the rest of the land was under the thraldom of the Danes. Alfred was one of those men who thoroughly grasp the needs and opportunities of the age in which they are born. All the best instincts of his time and race were united in his single personality; from our vantage-ground of the future we are able to look back upon him as the exponent of the vital and progressive tendencies of the ninth century. One of the many helpful and significant ideas, that were running through North Europe at the time, was that of national unity. Charlemagne's work in France and Germany and Italy gave the ideal of a great administration, which dealt with vast and extended territories. The English were not the only folk to feel the new impulse; Eric in Sweden, Harold Fairhair in Norway, Guttorm in Denmark—all gave expression to the same unconscious will. Egbert, a pupil of Charlemagne, had laid the foundation of the new movement in this country by reviving the title and power of the Bretwaldas. Alfred, forty years afterwards, was able to make a more significant advance; he determined that one king and one king only should bear sway in England. His descendants fully absorbed the idea, and never ceased from strife until success crowned their efforts in 954 and the last king of the Northumbrians was driven from the realm by king Eadred.
The significance of the idea of one king to express the unity of England is easily understood; the conception of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is no less symbolic of the same tendency. Here we have a definite attempt to weld various local annals and records into one whole and to put forward the result as a national chronicle..
The materials which Alfred had at his command were of the most meagre value. The Teutonic settlers of Britain had no notion of giving an account of themselves. Angles and Saxons and Jutes seem to have forgotten their old traditions by the ninth century; and whatever was preserved in the national poetry was not held worthy of a place in the national chronicle. No better proof of this can exist than the state of our knowledge, futile in its scantiness, concerning the actual conquest of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. It is probable that the magic- and myth-filled stories of the Celts, dealing with king Arthur and the rest of them, contain more genuine material than the bare annals of the AngloSaxon Chronicle, which cannot even be trusted for chronological exactness. The introduction of Christianity in the seventh century meant a connection, however slight, with the Continent. Lists of kings and bishops were compiled and continued under the new influence; the genealogical traditions of the various races were even committed to prose. In the new medium of the Latin tongue Bede's immortal work was composed.
Alfred collected such scanty records together and added to them a history of the century in which he lived. Egbert's wars were not yet forgotten, and the deeds of his son and grandsons were still nearer the king's own experience. The account of his own wars down to the year 892 is probably from the pen of the West-Saxon monarch himself; no definite judgement can be given, but the spirit and style of the narrative is wholly Alfred's. We know from other sources that the king's mind soared above the isolated life of his own island; he felt in all its fulness the great man's need of a less restricted atmosphere. To this unconscious instinct we may trace the sending of alms to India and the frequent mention of foreign events in that portion of the Chronicle attributed to him. Note, too, the curiosity which is shown about the three Irish exiles of the year 891: Alfred was ever interested in tales of the outside world; compare the account of the voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan which he inserted in his translation of Orosius' History.
It was possibly at Winchester, the capital of the